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CFN Preview 2013 - Temple Owls
No, Al Golden is not returning to N. Broad Street. But the Owls may have found the next best thing.
When Golden accepted a promotion to Miami in December of 2010, many around Philadelphia felt as if Matt Rhule was the only logical successor. Heck, he was an up-and-coming assistant under Golden who had witnessed what was required to breathe life into a dying program. The Owls administration passed, opting instead to hire Steve Addazio, who has since moved on to Boston College. Enter Rhule, who now gets his chance to prove that he shouldnt have been passed over two years ago.
Rhule is from Pennsylvania, and played linebacker for Penn State during the 1990s. He still owns the home he bought when he was a Temple assistant, before taking an O-line position with the New York Giants. Hes a good fit for this challenging position. His job will be to recapture the magic that Golden birthed. And hell have to do it against a tougher schedule than his mentor faced. The Owls are beginning their second season in the Big East, now known as the American Athletic Conference.
The new staff inherits a 4-7 team that does not boast a lot of ready-made talent. Of last seasons seven All-Big East performers, just one, LB Tyler Matakevich, is still an Owl. Oh, and the youthful squad will also be adjusting to new systems, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Long gone is Addazios run-oriented spread, replaced by a pro-style attack thatll lean more on the pass. The new direction has meant some shifting of personnel, such as former starting quarterback Chris Coyer to H-back, and one-time TE Cody Booth to left tackle. The biggest beneficiaries of the philosophical change figure to be underrated WR Jalen Fitzpatrick and QB Connor Reilly, a spring headline-maker.
To many, Rhule was the right choice to pick up where Golden had left off at the end of 2010. There was a two-year break, but the coach now gets his chance to prove his supporters right. To be successful, the new man in charge will have to follow the Golden Rhule at Temple, dramatically elevating the potential of high school kids passes over by larger East Coast programs.
What to watch for on offense: Putting out an APB for a pocket passer. The new system in Philadelphia will call for the Owls to throw more, a welcome development on campus. But who will be the new triggerman now that bruising dual-threat Chris Coyer has been wisely shifted to H-back? Former JUCO transfer Clinton Granger has the most experience, but special teams holder Connor Reilly has come on like a locomotive. The junior has no experience at this level, but his arm strength and accuracy vaulted him into the lead as spring practice came to a close.
What to watch for on defense: A Levi Brown sighting. Brown began 2012 as one of the Owls best defensive stoppers, but did not perform that way as a junior. The nose tackle contributed a ho-hum 27 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and half-sack. He failed to adequately make the transition from the MAC to the Big East. However, the coaches are convinced that their veteran nose tackle can still dominate on a weekly basis, even generating some buzz within the NFL scouting community. Temple needs more assertiveness up front, and No. 99 is eager to provide it in his finale.
The team will be far better if the offense adapts to the new system quickly. The Owls have got to score more points this year in order to be more competitive in a tougher league. And the impetus will be on the passing game to keep the chains moving in 2013. Temple needs to achieve a level of consistency in the passing game, maximizing the skills of receivers Jalen Fitzpatrick and Deon Miller, while finally spinning a more balanced overall attack.
The Schedule: The Owls dont get much of a break, starting out the year at Notre Dame and then diving right into Big East play against Houston. Beating the Cougars is a must to go on a big September run with Fordham and Idaho to follow. It gets ugly fast in October with Louisville and a trip to Cincinnati in six days and road games against SMU and Rutgers making it four away games in six and three in four weeks. The slate eases up late with home games against UCF and Connecticut before finishing up with Memphis, but getting close to a winning record will be a fight.
Best offensive player: Junior WR Jalen Fitzpatrick. The all-purpose weapon has been a well-kept secret the last two years because, well, the Owls didnt use him properly. Hes an exciting all-around playmaker, but the old guard treated wide receivers like undersized blocking backs. In the new system, Fitzpatrick is going to flourish. The speedy and elusive starter at Z caught a team-high 30 balls for 363 yards and two touchdowns, and can also operate from behind center out of the Wildcat formation.
Best defensive player: Sophomore LB Tyler Matakevich. The rookie was an afterthought at the beginning of 2012 in the minds of just about everyone but himself. Matakevich knew he could contribute if only given a chance, and thats exactly what he got after Olaniyi Adewole suffered an injury. The 6-1, 220-pounder went from opening day backup to a team-best 101 tackles, including 19 in an upset of Connecticut. Matakevich is rugged, fundamentally sharp and rarely far from the flow of the play.
Key players to a successful season: the offensive linemen. The Owls have some potential on offense now that theyll be using a passer-friendly blueprint for success. However, the offense will remain in neutral unless the O-line is able to operate at peak efficiency. A number of blockers must deliver, from oft-injured C Sean Boyle to converted tight end Cody Booth, whos now lining up at left tackle. If the line cant mesh and remain healthy, the offense has little chance of elevating beyond last seasons problems.
The season will be a success if ... the Owls reach the .500 mark, and earn a postseason bid. Its admittedly aggressive considering the holes that Temple has on both sides of the ball. Still, Matt Rhule did not accept this job on the premise that hell need a few years to rebuild. No, he and his assistants are determined to coach up a team that won just four games in 2012. With a schedule that includes games with Fordham, Idaho, Army and Memphis, the Owls might still have a shot at bowl contention by the time November rolls around.
Key game: Oct. 11 at Cincinnati. For Temple and the new staff, the trip to the Queen City will provide a rare opportunity for national TV exposure on a Friday night. Itll be a good chance for the Owls to sell their new brand to the television audience, especially to those potential recruits that are watching. The Bearcats will be favored, affording Temple the occasion to weave the kind of upset that generates momentum for the second half of the season.